By Joe Bruzek, Cars.com
The Royal Purple Raceway outside of Houston served as our test grounds for measuring zero-to-60-mph and quarter-mile acceleration of five max-tow pickup trucks, measured both empty and with 1,750 pounds of payload. We equalized the payload evenly across each truck even if the 1,750 pounds exceeded its calculated payload capacity; such was the case for the 2016 Ram 1500 and the 2016 Toyota Tundra. The goal was to see how well each truck handled an equal payload within what we think is a reasonable weight encountered by truck owners who are concerned with maximum capabilities.
There were really only two trucks vying for the top spot in acceleration: the 2016 GMC Sierra with its powerhouse 420-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8 and the less powerful, but 540 pounds lighter, 2016 Ford F-150 and its 365-hp, twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 EcoBoost. The 2016 Chevrolet Silverado with its 5.3-liter V-8, the Ram with its 5.7-liter V-8 and the Tundra with its 5.7-liter V-8 were really only competing for third quickest.
How They Drove Empty
The Sierra's zero-to-60-mph time of 5.86 seconds and quarter-mile time of 14.4 at 96.9 mph was so fast that the truck nosed over before the quarter-mile ended as the Sierra hit its self-imposed 98 mph speed limiter 100 feet before the finish line. While the Sierra was already the fastest, there's more in it as well. A GMC spokesman said the Sierra's limiter is set to 98 mph to avoid driveline vibrations and resonance possible above that speed.
The next fastest truck, the F-150, had its problems at the start of the track rather than the end, thanks to its tire-frying wheel spin and bed-shaking wheel hop. Starting in 2nd gear via manual mode proved the smoothest way to harness the 3.5-liter EcoBoost's 420 pounds-feet of torque available at 2,500 rpm. Only then were we rewarded with a zero-to-60 time of 6.36 seconds and a quarter-mile in 14.8 seconds at 97.4 mph. We think a combination of the truck's fuel-saver Michelin Energy Saver tires and just how little the F-150 weighs might have made it a bear to launch; fuel-saver tires often place priority on low-rolling resistance over traction.
The rest of the pack was separated by just four-hundredths of a second in the zero-to-60 test, with the Tundra measuring 6.99 seconds, the Ram getting 7.01 seconds and the Silverado with its new, eight-speed automatic transmission clocking in at 7.03 seconds.
How They Drove Loaded
Adding 1,750 pounds of bagged rock salt over the rear axle helped equalize traction issues with the F-150, but traction wasn't everything that the F-150 needed to catch the Sierra. The Sierra hit 60 mph in 6.90 seconds with the 1,750-pound payload and did the quarter-mile in 15.3 seconds at 92.9 mph, while the F-150 did 60 mph in 7.21 seconds and the quarter-mile in 15.6 seconds at 90.8 mph. Here's a fun fact: The Sierra is faster loaded than the Toyota 5.7-liter, Silverado 5.3-liter and Ram 5.7-liter are empty. The Ford, however, had the least falloff in performance from empty to loaded in both zero-to-60-mph and quarter-mile times.
Eight-speed automatic transmissions in the GMC, Chevrolet and Ram let those trucks pounce from a standing stop with aggressive ratios in 1st gear: 4.56 on the Chevrolet and the GMC, and 4.71 on the Ram. This "pop" off the line is more apparent with loaded with cargo where those trucks hide the weight very well. Once moving, though, you can't ignore how light the EcoBoost 3.5-liter makes 1,750 pounds feel in the bed.
For a complete look at specifications of the tested trucks, including axle ratio, curb weight, horsepower and torque, click here for our What You Get chart.
Cars.com photos by Evan Sears and Angela Conners